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George F. Emmons papers

Call Number: WA MSS 166-169, WA MSS S-4386

Scope and Contents

The George Foster Emmons Papers have been organized in five sections. The first section (WA MSS 166) consists of three manuscript journals (931 pages long) which Emmons kept while attached to the U.S. Exploring Expedition under the command of Charles Wilkes. Emmons wrote the journals while on board the U.S. Sloop of War Peacock, W. L. Hudson, Commander, August 12, 1838 to June 10, 1842. The journals contain an account of the expedition with detailed descriptions of the special surveys made by the Peacock, original drawings of the harbors, and a number of small drawings and diagrams. They are further illustrated by the insertion of portraits, engravings, maps, and extracts from Charles Wilkes' Narrative. Journal No. 3 contains a detailed account of the overland expedition that Emmons commanded from Vancouver to San Francisco, August to October, 1841. Emmons' account of the overland expedition is supplemented by that of Henry Eld (WA MSS 161). A number of letters and documents are inserted chronologically in the journals.

The second section of the Emmons Papers (WA MSS 167) consists of two sketchbooks of original drawings made by Emmons while on board the Peacock during the U.S. Exploring Expedition. The thirty-four drawings to be found in the sketchbooks include sketches of icebergs in the Antarctic, harbors entered, incidents of the voyage, pictures of native peoples, etc. A list which provides a brief description of each drawing is appended below.

The third section (WA MSS 168) consists of a scrapbook of official letters received from 1828 to 1850. Other documents and memorabilia, such as military orders, invitations, and calling cards are also included. The scrapbook contains ninety-seven pieces in all and is organized chronologically into three groups: 1828-37; correspondence relative to the U.S. Exploring Expedition, 1836-38; and 1842-48.

The fourth section of the Emmons Papers (WA MSS 169) consists of a single scrapbook (thirty-four pages long) of mounted clippings from the New York Express, reporting the proceedings of the Naval General Court Martial on board the U.S. Ship North Carolina, at New York, July 27 to September 15, 1842. The clippings cover the trial of Charles Wilkes (August 17), who was accused upon his return from the Exploring Expedition of illegally punishing some of his men. The clippings also cover the trials of Midshipman William May, Lieutenant Robert E. Johnson, Surgeon C. F. B. Guillou, and Lieutenant Robert F. Pinkney which preceded the Wilkes trial, as well as a few trials which followed. (Wilkes was publicly reprimanded by the Court Martial.) There are also a few clippings on miscellaneous topics in the volume.

The fifth section (WA MSS S-4386) consists of four scrapbooks of mounted clippings relating to naval history, privateering, naval courts martial, naval appointments and retirements, international navies, and naval actions in the Gulf of Mexico. There are also miscellaneous loose papers relating to George F. Emmons.


  • 1828-1957
  • Majority of material found within 1828-1864


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

The George Foster Emmons Papers is the physical property of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.


2.21 Linear Feet (11 volumes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL

George Foster Emmons (1811-1884)

George Foster Emmons was born at Clarendon, Vermont, on August 23, 1811. His father, Horatio, served throughout the War of 1812 as an officer in the army. George Foster Emmons was appointed a midshipman in 1828 and studied at the New York Naval School. He served on the frigate Brandywine in the Mediterranean, 1830-33, and in 1838 joined the U.S. Exploring Expedition under the command of Charles Wilkes. Emmons served as acting lieutenant of the Peacock, the second ship of the squadron, and stayed with that vessel until it was destroyed at the mouth of the Columbia River. In the fall of 1841, while on the Wilkes Expedition, Emmons led an exploring party overland from the Columbia south to San Francisco. He later served on the Boston of the Brazil Squadron and the Ohio of the Pacific Squadron. While on duty in Washington from 1850 to 1853, Emmons wrote The Navy of the United States from the Commencement, 1775 to 1853, with a Brief History of Each Vessel's Service and Fate. During the Civil War, he served in the Gulf, on the Mississippi River, and in the South Atlantic blockading squadron. In 1868, he was commissioned commodore and spent the rest of his active duty on shore, chiefly as head of the Hydrographic Office in Washington and as commandant of the Philadelphia Navy Yard. Retired as rear-admiral in 1873, Emmons resided at Princeton, New Jersey, until his death in 1884.

Processing Information

Collections are processed to a variety of levels, depending on the work necessary to make them usable, their perceived research value, the availability of staff, competing priorities, and whether or not further accruals are expected. The library attempts to provide a basic level of preservation and access for all collections [as they are acquired], and does more extensive processing of higher priority collections as time and resources permit.

This finding aid, created before the advent of computer-generated files, has been converted into a ASCII data file by means of scanning and Optical Character Recognition software. While attempts have been made to retain the complete information from the original document a number of format changes have been made to present the structure of this archive in accordance with current practice.

This finding aid may be updated periodically to account for new acquisitions to the collection and/or revisions in arrangement and description.

Guide to the George F. Emmons Papers
by Beinecke Staff
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

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